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*Early Years

Andrew (Andy) Stewart was born on the 30th December 1933 at Redlands Hospital for Women, Great Western Road, Glasgow, the youngest child to Andrew Stewart, a school teacher and his wife Alice (nee Thomson), the family residing in the Linthouse area of Glasgow. Aged five Andy began his schooling at Drumoyne Primary School, moving to Craigie School, Perth as his father changed teaching jobs. When Andy was aged twelve the family moved again, his father securing the position of Principal Science Master at Arbroath High School. This time the move was permanent and the family settled, Arbroath becoming Andy's adopted home town.

Image of Andy with his parents

Andy with his parents in Arbroath

Andy was born into a musical family. With both his mother and father playing violin and his sister Moira learning piano it seemed only natural that Andy would have musical ability. However even at this early age his vocal dexterity came to the fore as he found it far easier to impersonate an instrument such as a trumpet with his voice, than it was to actually learn to play it.

Image of Andy with his parents

A young Andy with his sister Moira

During the war years Andy's mother would run garden fetes and charity shows to raise money for the Red Cross. Young Andy was the "star-turn" singing For Me and My Gal with his sister, but showbusiness was not yet his goal in life. Andy had ambitions to be a veterinary surgeon and spent most school holidays working on farms around Arbroath. It was in this environment that Andy would first hear songs known as 'Bothy Ballads' sung by local farm-hands. Unknown to him, these particular songs would form the basis of his professional career and play an immensely important part in his life.

Image of Andy with his school rugby team

Andy with the Arbroath High School rugby team

Andy did well at Arbroath High School collecting four Higher-Grade exam certificates, whilst enjoying cricket and rugby, helping to run the weekly school newspaper, Cosmos, and winning a school prize for History. In his second year, Andy had a tiny part in the school production of No Hawkers a Scottish comedy farce. He only had one line: "Would ye be wantin' ony safety pins, matches, or pencils the day?" but it was enough. The stage "bug" had bitten and he and like-minded friends delighted in presenting a new play for the school each year including Andy taking the parts of His Excellency Wang Yun, Prime Minister in Lady Precious Stream and Duncan MacCallum (Merchant & Small Sheep Farmer at Ardnish) in the one-act comedy Rory Aforesaid (A Sheepish Tale set in the West Highlands) by John Brandane.

"I don't know if there was any exact moment when I decided to become an entertainer, but it was certainly during my fourth year when I got my first starring part in a school play. It was 'Rory Aforesaid', and I played the part of MacCallum. We got a lot of applause, and I just basked in it and decided that this was the life for me. Mind in fairness, it wasn't surprising we got such a good reception - the audience was made up of doting parents and relatives!"

Image of Andy outside Arbroath High school

Andy revisits Arbroath High School

In 1950 Andy took part in the Arbroath Abbey Pageant heroically playing the part of "A Knight in Shining Armour". Nearing the end of his school days, Andy was greatly encouraged by his English teacher to seek out his future as an actor, so upon leaving High School Andy applied to the world-renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. However acceptance to RADA was a non-issue as it was made clear to him that if he wanted a grant then he had no choice but to attend an institution of learning somewhere in Scotland.

*Drama College

In June 1950 the Royal Scottish Academy of Music in Glasgow had established a drama department called the Glasgow College of Dramatic Art. Teaching began at the new college in September of that year with a view to training actors, directors and technicians for careers in the theatre. Andy's parents, although not keen at first, did not deter him and aged 17 he took digs at 114 Queens Drive, Glasgow and enrolled in 1951 for a three-year course.

"My father thought I would be better off in university.

I chose acting and while I don't think that my father was appalled, I'm not so sure he approved."




Learning speech, deportment, fencing (for which he won the college prize) and mime, his aspiration was to be a serious actor, but during his first year he won another of the college's first prizes this time for comedy acting. One teacher told him: "You have a comical face which will take you far if you use it right".

Image of a youthful Andy

A fresh-faced "Young Andrew" at
drama college in Glasgow

At the college Andy made many friends among his fellow students, including John Grieve who found success in BBC TV's The Vital Spark; future TV producer/director and Scottish Television's Head of Entertainment Clarke Tait and in particular; John Cairney - the actor who would go on to great critical acclaim "bringing Robert Burns to life" with his solo show in 1965.

Andy and John got on so well together that they were soon acknowledged as a comedy "double-act" within the college entertaining fellow students with their antics, albeit to the accompanying frowns of the teachers. This double-act transferred one evening to a venue that provided their first ever paid work at the Silver Sands Café, Aberdour in 1952 where for ten shillings each they performed a comedy and song routine in the style of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. They also set about creating their own student touring troupe - The Young Stagers - to perform plays during the college holidays, but unfortunately their plans were halted by the sudden death of one of their fellow student players. Andy and John would be reunited again professionally, performing for the BBC as two village lads in the play Knock, or The Triumph of Medicine broadcast live from London's Lime Grove studios in July 1954.

Image of Andy in the film - You're Only Young Twice

Andy as a film extra: "You're Only Young Twice" (1952)

The work of Scottish playwright James Bridie (whose original idea it was to create a drama school) provided Andy with two new opportunities during his time at college. The first was appearing in his first stage play, when selected students were hired to "rattle bones" in a section of The Anatomist starring Alastair Sim at the Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow as part of the Bridie Memorial Season and the second when Andy was briefly on screen for his one and only appearance in a film, as a student extra in You're Only Young Twice in a scene filmed at the college in 1952.

Another part in a film was promised to an excited Andy - a large part in the Walt Disney production of Rob Roy - however Andy contacted glandular fever and spent 12 weeks in hospital and the part was given to another actor. At this point in his life his illness was just an unfortunate turn of events. He was not to know that bouts of ill health were something that he would have to get used to in the future. (Unfortunately Andy had little luck with motion pictures. He auditioned for a part of a Scotsman in the 1953 film Innocents in Paris, but the part was given to actor James Copeland, and in 1962 The Rank Organisation's bio-pic of Sir Harry Lauder - that everyone speculated Andy would star in - never got off the ground, due to Lauder’s niece Greta repeatedly refusing to grant film rights.)

Image of Andy with his children

Horseplay with his young family
Image of Sheila, Andy's wife

Andy's wife Sheila

It was at Drama College that Andy met another aspiring pupil Sheila Newbigging, who under her stage name of Prentice would go on to act with the Edinburgh Gateway Theatre Company. Sheila recalled her first attraction to Andy: "For all the mime and the dancing classes, we all had to wear tights, and I always used to think what lovely legs he had! He was impetuous, impulsive and romantic. He kept asking me to marry him and I kept trying to be sensible pointing out that we were rather young. When we left the academy I was working with Margate Rep. Andy would hitch-hike or borrow a car at weekends no matter how far away he was working. On one occasion he arrived in the middle of the night and whisked me off to London still in my nightgown!".

John Cairney also remembered: "I thought I had a girlfriend called Sheila Newbigging, but Andy had other thoughts and she became Mrs. Stewart in no time". Andy and Sheila were married on the 14th of October 1955. Sheila was known to friends and colleagues to be a great support to Andy and their marriage was an enduring one. They had six children together: Tara, Andrew (Ewan), Debbie, Lynsey, Melanie and Magdalen, and remained happily married until Andy's death in 1993.

One of Andy's acting heroes Alec Guinness visited the Drama College, as many actors did, to talk to the students whilst he was appearing locally. Andy being very interested in his work, particularly regarding the use of different voices throughout performances, talked with the actor at great length. For the next couple of years Andy kept in touch with Alec and his enthusiasm was rewarded when on graduation, director Colin Chandler presented "young Andrew", with a cheque for £50 left by Guinness "to help further his career". Eventually however they lost contact.

"I suppose that's what I would have liked... to be a fine comedy actor like Alec Guinness in the Ealing days. I had no desire to be a tragic, Shakespearian figure.

But after I graduated, I felt it would be a bit of an imposition to keep in close touch with him. I was afraid it would look as if I was angling for parts or preferential treatment.

Still, the past is full of "iffs"."

One thing Andy didn't have to worry about was employment, as talent scouts were already singling him out for attention. The annual "rag-day" provided a vehicle for students to show-off just what they could do, culminating in the College Pudding Revue. This event had been a particular favourite of Andy's as he was free to give an audience the whole range of his accents, dialects and impersonations. As a result of this he was approached before he had even left college and asked if he would like to start working in "variety shows". He agreed and began working with the William Galt Theatrical Syndicate as a comedy impressionist.

Andy made his stage debut at the age of 19 in March 1953 as one of "Five New Young Star Comedians" at the Gaiety Theatre in Leith:

"There were five young Scots comics on the bill – myself, Jimmy Neil, Don Arroll, Jackie Wilson and Jimmy Stewart. I was completely raw so I bought some 'Readers' Digests' and got a few jokes from them. I was so ignorant that when the musical director put out his hand I shook it – not realising the hand was outstretched for my music. At that time I didn’t know what made show business tick, how many beans made five, and what was the correct recipe. I started off my act with an impression of Al Martino singing 'Here In My Heart'. It was the strongest part of my act, and thought it best to do it first – that will show you how much I knew. At least I thought it was the best bit – but I’m afraid the audience hadn’t heard of Al Martino, far less Andy Stewart. Nobody had ever heard of me - I hadn't even heard of me!

I was a colossal non-success and nearly died on my feet. It wasn’t a good start but I changed my routine every night and at the end of the week I felt it was a good act. For that week’s work I got paid the princely sum of £12. Out of that I had to pay for the hire of a dinner suit, and parted with 10 per cent to an agent."

During an early appearance at The Metropole Glasgow, on the same bill as Chic (Murray) & Maidie, Andy received encouragement in comedy from the Scottish comedienne Renée Houston "Here, laddie, you've got talent. Stick in and you'll be a comic". Andy made some more appearances alongside Houston at the Empire Theatre, Inverness in August 1953, his description in the programmes being "Andy Stewart: Leaves an Impression" and "Andy Stewart: 'Anding out Laughs". Being so sure of his talent, Renée offered him a part in a London show Cockles and Champagne which he graciously turned down still unsure whether his future was as a comedian or as an actor.

*Learning the Trade

Andy graduated from Drama College in 1954 and one of his first jobs came in July appearing for two weeks in the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow in the Tommy Morgan Show, introduced by the popular Scottish comic as the "discovery of the two weeks - young Andra Stewart". The Scots character actor Duncan Macrae had encountered Andy in and around Glasgow, and talked Tommy into taking Andy on as his guest artist during the Glasgow Fair fortnight. Tommy gave Andy eight minutes in which to impress the audience:

"I'll never forget the reception I got. It was the first time I ever brought a house down. And at that time I wasn’t clever enough to know how I had done it.

Watching Tommy was a great experience in itself. His technique and his timing were perfect; you couldn’t help learning from him. Tommy was a tremendous character, a warm hearted man who always had time to help youngsters, and he had the greatest sense of humour I have ever come across."

Andy followed his two weeks at The Pavilion with thirteen weeks touring alongside Duncan Macrae himself, in another Bridie play Gog and Magog and appearing at the Edinburgh Palladium theatre in late night revue during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe honing his nightclub act. Behind the scenes in Gog and Magog riotous fun ensued:

"There was a party given in Duncan Macrae's honour, but it was a spoof party, at the end they opened the silver salver and gave him a balloon. But before that he's asked to entertain the company. So he says he'll do "Richard III's speech before the Battle of Agincourt". And it was all of Shakespeare completely mixed up. There were bits of 'Othello', there were bits of 'Richard III', there were bits of 'Henry V'... but the end was Macrae actually falling down on the stage and saying: "Goodnight Sweet Prince" and a drunk man in the front shouted: "Aye, Goodnight Duncan!". He then rose to the full majesty of his six feet and said: "I shall begin Again..." and started from the top! "Richard III's speech before the Battle of Agincourt... I hate myself, why do I hate myself? For all the hateful deeds I have done..." right through to the end, collapsed and said: "Goodnight Sweet Prince"... And again this drunk says: "AYE A'RIGHT, GOODNIGHT DUNCAN!"

And right in the middle - not as an aside - he came over to me and said: "Andra, if that eejit opens his mooth again, throw a so-and-so'in chair at him. You'll only get fined five pounds for assault - and think of the publicity!"

Andy took his interest in drama further by joining a repertory company at The Metropole. He appeared in plays such as The Fighting Flannagans and The Poisoned Pen in the Glen, but even in these Andy was being billed as "A Rising Young Comedian". In another play The Black Sheep of the Family his talent for impressions and comedy were exploited again by the producer of the play, Harold Dayne, who inserted a night-club scene especially for Andy to give his best drunken impression. Having trouble deciding whether to pursue more acting roles or continue in variety, his mind was finally made up when he enquired at the Citizens' Theatre if there were any jobs available...

"By this time I was truly immersed in drama, and I went across to Citizens' and asked for a job, and was told yes I could get a job at Citizens' starting at about £15 a week, and at the time I was earning £35 a week in variety, but that wasn't what stopped me. I said to them: "Will I get on stage very much?" they said: "No most of the time you'll be making tea" and I said: "Well I'm a pretty proficient tea maker, but I'm not so sure about being as proficient at acting and that's really what I want to do".

So I didn't want to hang about making tea, and I decided I would make my own way in the world of variety."

So that was that. Andy ended his spell at the Metropole in the first week of September 1955 and one week later set off on his chosen career in Variety beginning with a show at the Glasgow Empire with the "Atomic Comic" singing group The Four Graham Brothers and comedian Bert Bendon.

*The Variety Stage

From 1955-1959 "variety" was an appropriate word for Andy's professional work both in theatres and on TV. His first English engagement was in Manchester in June 1955 with Billy Eckstine topping the bill. From then he appeared up and down the halls in both Scotland and England as a young comedy impressionist with James Stewart; James Cagney; Charles Laughton; Billy Daniels; Perry Como; Johnnie Ray; Al Jolson and Louis Armstrong among his repertoire. One of his most popular routines was to perform the well-known and peculiarly Scottish song Ye Cannae Shove yer Granny Aff a Bus in the voices of American stars like Jolson or Armstrong. Andy had been performing his “Granny” routine since his student days and had found out, at least once, that it had been copied by another new young comic, when in December 1954 Andy was asked not to perform this routine in Paisley as “...one of the discoveries in a show here a few weeks ago did the same thing.” Andy pondered on whether he should feel annoyed or flattered!

He was also master of ceremonies to the first packaged Rock & Roll show to tour England, introducing the likes of Tony Crombie and his Rockets, Don Fox and Maxine Daniels to the music-hungry teens:

"The tour opened in Portsmouth and the chap doing the job of compere just didn't have enough "Rock 'N' Roll" in him, and I did because I did all these Little Richard impressions and Presley impressions, so I was given the job. I'm still mad about Rock 'N' Roll.

I was one of the very first people, I think, in this country to recognise Presley. I had Presley in my pantomime in 1956. At the Edinburgh King's I did an impression of Elvis Presley in the second half of the show and the producer of the show said: "Well who is Elvis Presley?"."

In November 1955 Andy was contacted by his agent Hyman Zahl of the Fosters Agency offering him - to his great surprise - the job of replacing one of the most legendary figures in Scottish variety, Harry Gordon "The Laird O' Inversnecky", as pantomime Dame in Dick Whittington at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow after Gordon had suffered a heart attack. Andy, untried in pantomime would star alongside the sophisticated revue comedian Jack Radcliffe, and if nothing else, the job would provide a great learning opportunity for him.

"I got a telegram from my agent Hymie Zahl, that they would like me to step into Harry Gordon's shoes, and oh, I was dreadfully upset, because I knew I was nowhere good enough to step into his shoes and I didn't really want to do it.

But everybody said to me: "Oh you must, it's a wonderful chance..." And I did it. And let me put it this way, the worst word you can say about any showbusiness performer: I was adequate."

The director, Freddie Carpenter, was not sure that Andy was quite up to the job either, but Andy, thrown in at the deep end, was a fast learner and his promise was being noted by critics - even after the opening performance:

Andy's professional performance under a great deal of difficulty was rewarded by the producers Howard & Wyndam Limited and he was back again in pantomime the following December, this time at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh in Cinderella playing the role of 'Buttons' (with Stanley Baxter and Alec Finlay as Cinderella's ugly step-sisters, Shirley and Senga) to packed houses - this time giving performances more than adequate. However Pantomimes would be few and far between in Andy's career as he never really enjoyed them, believing that they didn't really suit his style.

Meanwhile, comedian Jimmy Logan was following in his family tradition of producing and starring in independent show productions around Scottish theatres. He hired Andy as a "front-cloth comic" to great success at His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen. Both town and theatre were to remain close to Andy's heart and he often referred to the HM Theatre as the finest theatre in Britain. Andy first appeared in Aberdeen in 1955 at the Tivoli Theatre with the Scottish comic couple Grace Clarke and Colin Murray (Mr. & Mrs. Glasgow) as the headline act and Andy with another young hopeful Roy Castle (with whom he went fishing on the River Don - and never caught a thing) further down the bill.

Andy built up a love for the stage during his "apprenticeship" appearing in countless theatres and town halls all over Scotland, such as:

The Gaiety Theatre, Leith;
The Gaiety Theatre, Ayr (a theatre that Andy played a large part in saving from proposed demolition to make way for an office block in 1973);
The Lyceum in Dumfries;
The Edinburgh Empire;
Dunfermline Opera House and Hippodrome;
Aberdeen Tivoli;
The Granada Variety Theatre in Hamilton;
The Edinburgh Palladium;
The Theatre Royal Glasgow;
and of course the infamous Glasgow Empire.

Theatres big or small, Andy appeared at them all. However he was learning his stagecraft during a challenging time for theatre owners. In the late Fifties smaller theatres were beginning to close down deemed not viable anymore. Even the big ones were sensing trouble. Competition from television was increasing and many performers who had made their living on the stage despaired at dwindling audiences. This was the beginning of the end for variety.

Image of young Andy stewart

An early promotional photo of Andy the young
comedian as seen on Highland Fling

*Television

The new medium of television that was luring audiences away from the theatres was beginning to provide Andy with job opportunities away from the stage too. He made a couple of appearances on the BBC broadcast Garrison Theatre, the first alongside Renée Houston on March 25th 1955 from HMS Condor the Royal Naval Air Station near Arbroath, and again on the 7th June appearing alongside Duncan Macrae and Chic Murray from the City Hall in Perth.

In October 1955 Andy entertained at the official opening of the “Meldrum Aerial” bringing television to many rural parts of Aberdeenshire and in the same year he would present a monthly BBC comedy/music show from Scotland, Highland Fling, which was networked nationally across Britain. Equally praised and scorned by critics alike, it was however the fifteenth most watched programme on British television (and the highest rated entry for a BBC show) according to statistics for 1955. In 1958 Andy took over as host of Scottish Television's Dance Party Roof (a "popular music" show) following in the footsteps of the original presenter Rikki Fulton, who had left to fulfil theatre commitments with Stanley Baxter in the Glasgow Alhambra Five Past Eight Show, a popular series of revue shows boasting elaborate scenery and costumes and featuring the biggest names in Scottish performers.

*Radio

Andy's first documented appearances on radio came on the Home Service on the 20th May 1955 with Midday Music-Hall alongside Miki and Griff and Molly Weir, followed a month later with the Light Programme's Star Bill on the 12th June alongside Dennis Lotis and Elsie and Doris Waters.

In his role as BBC producer, Eddie Fraser was working with Andy on both Garrison Theatre and Highland Fling and impressed with his characterisations and voices made sure more radio work came his way.

Eddie Fraser started his professional life a stage comedian, “a man with a great future as a comic” commented the great Sir Harry Lauder. Born in Edinburgh, but raised in Glasgow Eddie was mad about the theatre. Whilst at school, he would walk his daily journeys in order to save his tram fares for the first house on a Monday at the Glasgow Empire. He joined dancing classes and made quite a reputation for himself as a “comedian-dancer” and appeared in musical productions with the Pantheon Club in Glasgow eventually graduating to producer of the shows. After the war and his time with concert parties, Eddie returned to Glasgow but gave up the stage himself, to concentrate on a career as a BBC producer helping many people to stardom. Many Scottish stars of the time considered that they had lost a rival, and gained a friend. Andy was yet another young hopeful that Eddie was delighted to help up the ladder.

Eddie would make Andy a regular contributor to Workers' Playtime whenever the programme visited Scotland, broadcasting from factory canteens including tool factories, woolen mills, distilleries, food canneries, & jam factories from Inverness to Hawick.

Image of Andy in drag as Jennie

Andy as "Jennie" on-stage, 1957

Andy joined the cast of a new radio series on the Scottish Home Service Jim & Mary. The series charted the day-to-day activities of a newly-wed couple setting up house in a Glasgow tenement and the comedy element came via their surrounding friends who "helped" them along the way. Not long into the series, the characters of Jim & Mary were quietly dropped and the title was changed to 17 Sauchie Street the name by which most radio listeners of the time fondly remember the show.

As the show gained popularity more characters were introduced, like the laughable Lord McGurk - a commoner made rich through his black pudding empire. Andy began to voice many characters in the series - but most memorable was "Jennie" the droll female companion to her constant friend "Jessie".

This homely comedy series, built around domestic scenarios familiar to most listeners became a big hit in its regular Friday evening slot drawing large audiences running from 1955-1960.

By 1957 Andy had his own touring show (the Empire, Inverness being particularly well frequented) and his appearances as "Jennie" with Nan Arton as "Jessie" became one of the high-spots of the shows.

"Jimmy Scotland scripted 17 Sauchie Street and every week once he got to know what we could do, it was there on a plate for us. But it was very much a team effort too, because to Jimmy we would suggest the kind of characters, and being radio that really meant voices, the kind of voices that we felt would fit in with the show.

It was great fun, a great challenge and what I loved about it, of course, because I'm mad about voices anyway, was the chance to use multifarious voices."


Towards the end of the 1950s Andy's profile had risen high enough for him to be invited to join the line-up for the first ever Royal Scottish Variety Performance, organised by Howard & Wyndham at the Alhambra Theatre Glasgow on the 3rd July 1958 before Her Majesty The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. Although there had been Royal performances before, this was to be the first Scottish equivalent of the famous show at the London Palladium.

Within Variety circles everyone wondered who would make the bill for this prestigious line-up. Andy proudly took his place alongside a stellar cast of Scottish talent including; Jack Anthony, Stanley Baxter, Clarke and Murray, Lonnie Donegan, Alec Finlay, Rikki Fulton, Jimmy Logan, Sally Logan, Larry Marshall, Alistair McHarg, Kenneth McKellar, Jack Milroy, Tommy Morgan, Jimmy Shand, Charlie Sim, Johnny Victory, Robert Wilson, The City of Glasgow Police Pipe Band, The Clyde Valley Stompers and the Band of the Scots Guards.

That night was Andy's first appearance in front of Royalty. He would in time become one of the Royals' favourite performers.

All-in-all work was not short for Andy during the years following drama college and his career was ticking over nicely, but fortune of a major kind was about to shine on him with an offer to appear on a new BBC television programme.